Sunday, 24 January 2016

Vacation

In 1983, one of my favourite comedy films of all time was released. National Lampoon’s Vacation, based on John Hughes’ short story Vacation ’58 that appeared in National Lampoon Magazine, was hugely successful critically and financially - and so rather predictably started a franchise. National Lampoon’s European Vacation and my annual festive-favourite National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation followed, before losing the National Lampoon label for the weaker fourth film Vegas Vacation in 1997. The films followed the misadventures of the Griswold family, as they attempted to enjoy their holidays through continual disasters and increasingly embarrassing predicaments. Now, 18 years since the last film, director/writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein bring us a new chapter in the franchise – released in cinemas 32 years to the day after the first film. I wish they hadn’t bothered…


Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray comes Vacation, a total disaster of a film that doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it a remake, a reboot or a sequel? It’s all of the above – at least, it likes to think it is. Set in the same universe as the original films, we follow the now grown-up Rusty (Ed Helms) who, in an effort to repair his estranged marriage with Debbie (Christina Applegate), decides to take her and the kids on a road-trip to Walley World. The fans among you reading this article will remember that this is the vacation the family took in the first film. This is where the remake side of things comes into it. Lots of scenes, jokes and overall characterisation seems lifted from the original here. But Rusty’s motivation to take this trip involves looking at old family photos from the first films, and a cameo from original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo towards the end of the film reprising their roles as Rusty’s parents Clark & Ellen show us this is a sequel. But one could also argue this is a reboot, breathing life into a dormant franchise with a new cast. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. At all.


The main issue with Vacation, as it is trying to be a comedy, is how many of the jokes fall flat. The humour here is as dumbed down and juvenile as you can get – the sort of jokes that seem written by 13-year old boys at a sleepover, off their heads on Coca Cola and crisps. I think I pulled a muscle in my face due to all of the cringing. But this isn’t the good sort of Alan Partridge-enduced cringing. This is the “this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen” cringing. And it makes for a painful viewing experience. The entire cast are on hugely unlikeable form due to this weak material and it’s just upsetting to see. I’ve always had a soft spot for Ed Helms, he was the highlight of The Hangover films for me and one of the strongest characters in The Office. But here, I shook my head in disappointment as he uttered some of the most poorly-written ‘comedy’ dialogue I’ve heard in years, often in a blatant (and awful) impression of Chevy Chase’s Clark from the original films. The two kids (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins, 2 of the silliest names in Hollywood) are nothing special and painfully uncomfortable appearances from Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann and Charlie Day bring nothing good to this terrible film.

There were some mildly entertaining moments purely from a fan’s perspective, as there are references to the earlier films – the original Holiday Road theme song, an appearance from the original film’s car, etc. - but on the whole these scenes just made me sad. And this sums up the film. Seeing the old, overweight Chevy Chase reprising his legendary role of Clark just made me emotional. I wasn’t around when the original film came out, but I watched it a hell of a lot in my early teenage years. And now, seeing him effectively pass the torch to a much weaker and less entertaining lead…I’m not prepared to see that. Remember the fear, sadness and anger we had in our hearts when we thought Shia LaBeouf was going to take over the role of Indiana Jones? That is what this feels like.


I wasn’t expecting a lot from this. Like I said, the original films are near and dear to my heart and I knew this reboot/remake/sequel/whatever-the-f**k-it-is would never come close to it. But it turned out a whole lot worse than I could’ve ever imagined, and if this is the end of the Vacation series then what a horribly sad way to close the book. Vacation is exactly why I hate remakes and reboots. It’s an embarrassingly unfunny and painfully unnecessary piece of shit that only serves to make the fans sad. It’s one of modern comedy’s darkest hours, but on the bright side, it will be forgotten quicker than you can say...wait, what was I talking about?

Vacation is a trip you don’t want to take. Avoid at all costs. Watch the originals. 1/5.


★☆☆☆☆

Sam Love


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